Wednesday, April 10, 2013

7 covetable toys that blurred the line between robot, pet and friend

7 covetable toys that blurred the line between robot, pet and friend:
Romo takes a bow on the TED2013 stage. Photo: James Duncan Davidson
Childhood pals Keller Rinaudo, Phu Nguyen and Peter Seid had a simple motivation for creating the smartphone toy robot Romo. As Rinaudo told CNET, it was because most personal robots on the market are simply “sucky.”
Keller Rinaudo: A mini robot -- powered by your phoneKeller Rinaudo: A mini robot -- powered by your phoneRinaudo, Nguyen and Seid — who founded the company Romotive — set out to build a personal robot that harnesses the powerful processor available in every smartphone. They aimed to make their bot highly programmable. And they wanted it to have a lot of personality.
“We think if you’re going to have a robot in your home, that robot should be a manifestation of your imagination,” says Rinaudo in yesterday’s talk, filmed at TED2013. “We don’t know where the future of robots will go. But what we do know that it isn’t 10 years or $10  billion away … The future of personal robotics is happening today.”
So how does Romo work? Your iPhone docks into a robotic base that looks a bit like a white and blue tank. When you download the Romo app, the bot springs to life, giving you facial expressions and responding to your movements. Romo can be driven, and thus can perform simple tasks for you. He can even be a roaming photographer or videographer.
Romo starts shipping in June. Meanwhile, online ads for the bot proclaim, “I’m Romo the Robot, your pet and friend.” Naturally, this reminds us of a few prior inventions that also attempted to blur these lines.
Here, a look…

Giga Pets

Often credited as the “first virtual pet,” Giga Pets were released in 1997 by Tiger Toys. While the 2-bit graphic keychain critters seem quaint now, they were much-loved at the time for their ability to tell their owners when they were hungry. (Yes, they grew with proper care.) Above, a vintage commercial.
The Furby

For anyone who scoured toystores and braved unthinkable lines during the holiday season of 1998 — in hopes of getting their hands on a Furby  – the concept of an electronic pet will sound familiar. The owl-like robotic toys started out speaking “Furbish.” But over time – with human interaction – they learned bits of English and developed personalities. According to Wikipedia, more than 40 million were sold in their first three years on the market. Hasbro revived Furbies in 2012 – this time with an app that allows people to translate Furbish as well as feed the little guys.

A year after the Furby, Businessweek ran an article about a new offering from Sony – the robotic puppy AIBO. The article opened, “Toshi T. Doi, Sony Corp.’s leading computer engineer, is obsessed with robots. His small, third-floor lab is a breeding ground for robotic pups taking their first wobbly steps, chasing balls, and barking for attention. ‘We’re getting ready for the age of digital creatures,’ says Doi.” These cute pups, which cost more than $2000, lasted through 2005.

AIBO inspired many a robotic dog—the cutest of which was i-Cybie, from Silverlit Toys. I-Cybie could respond to voice commands, a la “wag your tail,” and exhibited what seemed like real emotions. The adorable metal dog could even pick itself up if it fell down. Read this New York Times piece on how this virtual pet arrived in the U.S.


PARO, the “healing robotic seal,” comes to life when you say his name. Thanks to tactile sensors, writes Mashable, he responds to petting and coos excitedly when you rub his forehead. Why was he designed? Japanese company AIST explains on their website that he was created to provide the benefits of animal therapy – reduced stress, emotional stimulation – to people in hospitals and other environments where a real-life pet wouldn’t be allowed. He’s been covered in The New York Times … and tested by Barack Obama.

Who wouldn’t want a miniature dinosaur? In the TED Talk “Caleb Chung plays with Pleo,” the famed toy designer introduces us to Pleo, a robotic dinosaur that acts like a pet. Pleo is curious about the world around it and explores, plays and even learns. The bot responds to touch and, of course, cuddles. Reborn in 2010 as Pleo rb, these bots now have born-in personality traits — think courage and obedience — and go through a four-stage life cycle.